Drinking champagne from a lady’s slipper became a symbol of decadence in the early 20th century. But Australian culture has turned it into the iconic shoey, the hilarious spectacle where using dodgy shoes as your pint glass can sometimes lead to shitting your pants on stage. Just ask Aussie punks, C.O.F.F.I.N. who this happened to some years back.
Who are C.O.F.F.I.N. you may ask. Think Motorhead meets Cosmic Psychos meets The Cult. Now imagine that blend but with Animal from The Muppets on drums and vocals, complete with a wicked sense of humour and a passion for inclusivity. You’ve just imagined C.O.F.F.I.N.
Australian punk rock has been at an all time high recently, churning out some of the most exciting punk bands we have seen for quite some time- and C.O.F.F.I.N (standing for ‘Children In Finland Fighting In Norway’) are one of the stand out names in the genre. With their versatile sound and childish humour, they are a name that is spoken highly of by notable Aussie punks, Amyl and the Sniffers. “Incredible rock album, driving musicianship and lyricism that is timeless, with great men behind it. It literally rocks hard AF” Amy Taylor exclaims across the Amyl socials when talking of the C.O.F.F.I.N. new release.
The four-piece have just shared their fifth studio album ‘Australia Stops’, a record that showcases a collection of diverse and gripping new works that highlight the bands evolution into more melodious, 1970s Australiana and boogie rock ‘n’ roll. The album is packed with fast-paced tracks that are layered with the distinguishable vocals of drummer Ben Portnoy. His one-size-fits-all approach to the vocals means that his shouty USP runs consistent across the faster tracks as well as slower examples such as ‘Night Breaker’. A change in vocal approach is always welcome in punk, however, C.O.F.F.I.N’s approach to keep the vocals consistent has helped define their character and sound.
To C.O.F.F.I.N, ‘Australia Stops’ are words that became a polysemous idea and observation on Australian society, culture, art, politics and progression. “When the city burns up you get out, when the flint hits shot you get down” – lyrics roared by drummer Ben, a look into ‘idle-Australia’, the government action (or lack thereof) to social issues and the overarching fear of change in the country. While the theme ‘Australia Stops’ poses political questions and ideals, it also synchronously shines light on the eminence of community, the healthy beating heart of art and music, the beautiful landscapes and divergent nature surroundings held dear within Australia. With this, Australia Stops is neither a fully positive or negative elucidation of this country. It is a celebration of the things we are lucky to have, while always trying to encourage and inspire those around us to try and do better.
With a slight political agenda and tour antics involving broken bones, shitting themselves on stage and putting on a night to remember, the boisterous punks have made a name for themselves as a group that puts the needs of their crowd first. With a strong will to look out for one another and make sure everyone at the show is having a good time (not just those at the front), their modern approach to live shows is one that is welcomed in the community. Some might say, when it comes to initiating active change within the punk scene, they are the final nail in the COFFIN… (sorry).
Here we speak to them about beer, maturity and their new album.
If you had to compare C.O.F.F.I.N. to a beer, which beer would you compare yourselves to and why?
The crisp taste of Tooheys because they paid me most recently.
18 years of C.O.F.F.I.N. and this is your fifth album. How long do you think you’re gonna keep putting records out? How many more do you think you have left in you?
Never thought of the numbers much. Just becomes part of the work. Jam > record > tour. Don’t see a limit on it really, would be real pleased to do it till we drop. How long we can pull it off with the same ferocity is the question. But what I really enjoy and appreciate about this band is that it’s not too limited by genre or scene. So makes me think we can manoeuvre the music around what we are doing best at the time.
You guys formed the band when you were in high school, looking back, is there anything you would have done differently throughout your career?
Yes and no. I mean, it seems odd to not look back on your teenage self and cringe. That said, all those moments and mishaps are integral to progression. We’re stoked to be where we are as musicians and friends, and perhaps wouldn’t be here without having written crud songs, played bad shows, or been ripped off. It’s rare for a band that starts in high school to be the band you stick with years later. Usually you learn what works and what doesn’t from previous bands and do a better job with the next one. With us adolescence and adulthood is all there together in our catalogue.
Do you feel your sound has matured since you started and do you think you have matured as people? I only ask because I read an interview where you spoke about one of you having two broken hands, and another one of you shitting yourself whilst doing a bad shoey. (Which is a hilarious story)
Hahaha thanks for the reminder. I mean, I still think that’s hilarious. The music has definitely matured. Couldn’t still be doing it if it hadn’t. We probably look at the distance between a roof and the ground twice now, and reserve punches.
For us immature behaviour is comedy gold, and we still don’t like to take ourselves too seriously. But what we do care about we take seriously and stick up for. The scope of that for us is constantly growing.
What’s the dumbest thing you have ever done on tour?
We accidentally slept on an airfield in Florida’s Key West. Jumped the fence at night in search of an open grassy space. Woke up to the sound of plane coming in for landing with a coast guard ship in the background.
You mentioned once in an interview “an album is never finished, it just has a deadline”, do you feel there was more that could be done with this album? Or are you completely happy with how it is? (I love it by the way…)
It’s true, there are always going to be things you feel you can do better. There’s probably also a lot of hesitation around delivering something so personal to the public. As much as you don’t wanna be phased by what others think, you want people to be into it, that can create speed bumps, setting a deadline forces you past getting too finicky.
This album is for sure the most well put together and prepared one we’ve done. Partly because COVID interrupted gigging and give us more time writing.
For someone like me who annoyingly hasn’t seen you play live (yet), how would you sum up your shows? What can we expect from a COFFIN gig?
Bit of barking, everything at full tilt, good times rock ’n’ roll. We’re usually pretty onto who we get on the bill for the night too, so that the whole show is a fun one.
Amy Taylor of Amyl and the Sniffers described your shows as “rowdy, but they treat everyone with respect and make sure everyone gets a go – that’s important to them, and it sums up everything I like about live music. Even if the crowd’s rowdy, there’s space for everyone. It’s inclusive.” Is inclusivity at shows something that has always been important to you? How do you ensure that everyone is having a good time?
I don’t think when we were younger we would have ever said it wasn’t important if asked us. But we also probably just didn’t think about it much. Or think we had to be vocal about it. That’s part of the ‘growing scope’ we touched on earlier. Of course it’s important to us. Having one uniformed of audience isn’t too interesting. Having people crammed to a side or up the back is distracting because you know they’re not having the best time or enjoying the music. if you’ve ever been that person, you know it’s a shitty time. We usually just try keep an eye out for it, and remind people to give everyone space to get involved – to have the most fun you can have without ruining anyone else’s.
A lot of the time crowds are responsive to that and want the same. When you’ve got a good mix and folks looking out for each other everyone has more fun.
Do you feel that the punk/rock community needs to be more vocal about inclusivity? Is this something you have noticed throughout your years of touring and playing music?
Nothing is ever perfect, but I do see people making more of an effort. Whether it’s as simple as a youngster seeing other youths making music, or person from a minority group seeing them self in a band or audience, people often need that as a push of confidence to feel they can do it too. Having the same people do the same shit is boring. Variety keeps things fun.
I’m intrigued to know who all your ‘personal instrument heroes’ are. For example, who is the guitarist’s biggest guitar hero etc.
Abijah (lead guitarist) – Dime Bag
Ben (vocals / drums) – Philthy Animal
Aaron (guitar) – Malcom Young
Loz (bass) – Geezer
Which is your favourite track on the record and why?
Collectively, it seems to be the closing track ‘Faceless’. It’s the last song we wrote and pulls together a lot of what we do best with this band. It’s simplistic and unconventional, straight forward but oddly shaped. And just has some good feel to it I can’t capture with words.
The album cover is getting a lot of love online, talk me through the decision for that image and how it was taken.
That ferry is the fastest public transport between where we grew up on the Northern Beaches in Sydney, to Sydney city (Harbour Bridge, Opera House etc). A 30 minute commute. We’ve travelled on it countlessly – to skate the city, to see, shows, to get to school – and in a way it’s symbolic for linking us to the culture and crowd that we were seeking out from our semi detached peninsula surroundings. Geographically it’s iconic to Sydney, and I’ve always wanted to jump off it anyway. We were waiting at the wharf discussing the fact we needed to come up with a cover and then decision docked in front of us. We had our good pal and sharp shooter Dougal Gorman come take the shot. He jumped over the fence onto the big pile-on barrier that stops the boat from crashing into the wharf if it’s coming in too hot. Another mate was waiting on the beach to ward off anyone after us, and another was across the road waiting in the car.
And finally, you mentioned you are big fans of the ‘Detroit rock ‘n’ roll / proto-punk sound’, got any band recommendations for us to check out?
Here’s a little list of all Australian bands:
‘Australia Stops’ is out now.
Words: Jazz Hodge